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Jah Lap Climbing

Updated on May 31, 2009

The following is a piece I wrote about rock climbing about a year after I first started climbing in Malaysia.

In case you're wondering, "JLC" is the abbreviation of "Jah Lap Climbing", which is the name of a route at Damai, graded 6A+. It means "I Love Climbing". The time when I red-pointed that route, I was hitting the up trend of my passion for climbing so I felt the name was rather apt.

May, 2003 - JLC

There are different aspects of climbing that keep drawing me to it and I find that as my climbing matures and as I change, the reasons that bring me back also start to change. The one constant so far has been the fact that I always come back for more even if the inspiration is no longer the same.

Being "in the zone" is the high of an addiction and climbing is my addiction. Basically it boils down to the fact that I'm doing something I love to do - climb. I used to run and I thought that the feeling of running fast was the most exhilarating sensation I have ever experienced. That was until I started climbing.

I have often wondered what it was about running that made me feel good. Yes, I suppose I can attribute some of that sensation with the elevation of endorphins circulating in my brain but there are times I felt there was more to it than that. It was the feeling of being free - like nothing can reach you, nothing can touch you. But I've been "in the zone" during a run and I still can't really say it makes me feel the same way as I do when I climb.

When I'm on the threadmill or that eliptical cycle machine, I can only sustain concentration for a limited interval before the thought pops into my head: "How long have I been here?" Then when I check my watch, I'll find that it's only been about 2 minutes since I last checked my watch. It is much harder for me to reach "zone" status running than it is when I am climbing. If running is pethadine, then climbing is surely morphine (from a potency point of view). I can plan to hit the regular gym, but if anyone just suggests the notion of climbing, I can forget about everything else because I already know where I'll be.

Running is like the cake and climbing is the ice cream on top. When I was a runner, I never knew what ice cream tasted like so I thought cake was all I could have. But now I've discovered ice cream, I've realized that I like the taste much, much more than cake.

So what makes the difference?

When I run, only my body is free. My mind is still enslaved by anxiety from the many encumbrances of daily life. Climbing provides me the avenue for true escape. It frees both my body and my mind. When I can enter the state of pure climbing, for that moment, I am no longer affected by the world I live in.

Climbing forces me to release the negative emotions because they detract from my climbing. If I want to climb well, I have to let them go. But when I run, I can still hold the anger inside. If anything, sometimes the anger provides the fuel to run - harder, faster. Running doesn't teach me to let go. If I am angry when I climb, the wall rejects me. My strength is sapped by the energy it takes for me to stay angry. Climbing forces me to take control of my anger and if I fail to do so, I have to get off the wall. Running allows me to nurture that anger.

That is the fundamental difference between running and climbing - for me.

I once attended a psychology lecture about the hierarchy of consciousness. It all comes back to our basic instinct for survival. Until we meet the needs for survival there cannot be conscious pursuit for next level. When I climb and I feel afraid, the fear awakens that basic instinct. Reaching for the next handhold and advancing to the next bolt is all I can think about because in its own unique way, it has become a matter of survival for me - both from a physical and emotional aspect.

On other days, climbing is a voyage of discovery. Each time I climb, I learn more about myself - how I cope with problems, how I react to situations. I find that I respond to the wall the same way I handle issues in my life. When I climb, it heightens my awareness of instinctive behaviors of mine performed without conscious thought. It is a process of self-reflection allowing for the betterment of myself (if I choose to recognize the flaws and actually do something about it). It is also a source of encouragement to show myself that I can be more than the person trapped within the narrow limitations confined by my own mind.

The elation of climbing the "unachievable" - at least that which was unachievable to my own mind - is also a driver of the obsession for climbing. Take my whooping and the silly grin on my face after successfully leading Stalagasaurus for example. I walked around the beach with an idiotic grin on my face and that feeling of being on top of the world - I'm sure it was no small number of people there thinking that I had a few screws loose in my head but I certainly didn't care. All the way up, a part of me felt I couldn't achieve it. The mind was convinced that if I let go of one hand, I'd fall but when I had the courage to let go, I found that the other hand still managed to stick. This realization of concepts, verbalization of thoughts and visualization of theory in practice - these are the lessons I walk away with. I never believed until I witnessed, felt, and survived.

I used to think the titles were important - onsight, flash, redpoint. Now I don't really care whether I get them or not. I don't even remember how many of each I have had. I have heard someone who felt that "onsights" were the purest form of climbing. To me, an onsight is a one-night-stand. I don't remember anything about the climb or how I did it. I've never had to caress the rock to get to know it, to find which places to hold and what moves to make. I've never looked at the wall, studied it, or desired it because it was "too easy". That's probably why all my favorite routes are those I've had to project - like Monsoon and Water.

There isn't a really good climb or bad climb. Any new climb is a climb I want to do because every climb is a new experience to be explored. When I look at a new wall, I'm a kid in a candy store, trying to decide which sweet I want to try first. I'll probably never get to taste them all, but I sure as heck am going to taste as many as I can.

So what really keeps me coming back for more? I guess the need to be emancipated would be the strongest motivator.


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